Friday, April 26, 2013

Fun with Canada's provincial flags!

With some notable exceptions, U.S. state flags are a drab bunch. Our neighbors to the north, however, are a different story. While some Canadian provincial flags are too busy for their own good, they're almost all distinctive and exciting. In the United States, only one state (Maryland) has a flag based on British heraldry. Canada, on the other hand, is chock-full of heraldic-yet-fun! flags. Let's take a gander.

Québec has by far the most famous flag of any province. Their Fleurdelisé is Canada's equivalent of Texas' Lone Star flag: many Quebecers fly the Fleurdelisé more prominently than the Canadian national flag. In a bilingual country, it's as much a statement of French Canadian identity as it is a provincial symbol.

New Brunswick has my personal favorite provincial flag. Yes, it's a little (or much) too complex, but I love it anyway. How can you not? It's got my favorite sort of ship on it, a Scottish lymphad! It stands for one of New Brunswick's most important industries, shipbuilding. The gold lion above represents the province's connection to the Brunswick region of Germany.

Adopted in 1858, Nova Scotia has the only provincial flag from before the twentieth century. It's a simple color swap of Scotland's Saint Andrew's Cross, to represent the province's history as a Scottish colony (yes, Scotland had colonies of its own!). The Lion Rampant in the center is a bit redundant, since it also represents Scotland; it's only there to differentiate Nova Scotia's flag from the naval ensign of Russia. Still, it's a classy flag.

Prince Edward Island has an even more medieval-looking flag than New Brunswick does! It's got that Middle Ages art style, with the slightly faded colors and alternating band around three sides for good measure. The lion above stands for the province's namesake King Edward VII, and the trees represent the three counties of PEI (the saplings on the left) under the protection of Great Britain (the larger oak tree on the right). Monarchist indeed.

A fittingly two-part flag for a two-part province, Newfoundland and Labrador. The blue half on the left is a reference to the British Union Jack. The two red triangles on the right represent the two regions of the province. The gold arrow is a tribute to the province's military sacrifices, and together with the triangles forms a trident to represent the province's fishing industry.

British Columbia has another "lovably overcomplicated" flag. The Union Jack with a crown in the middle represents British colonialism, and the setting sun over the ocean represents the province's location on the west coast. What makes this flag especially goofy is that instead of placing the Union Jack in the canton like other provinces and countries, it's stretched across the entire top half of the flag for strange elongated proportions. It's like this is two flags smashed atop one another into one. I love it.

Saskatchewan, the only flag in the country not to feature the color blue! The great green color on the top half represents northern Saskatchewan's forests, and the gold below represents southern Saskatchewan's farmland. The long proportions of this flag give the two colors greater effect. The state flower, the western red lily, sits on the right side of the flag, while the provincial coat of arms sits in the canton.

Alberta has the closest flag to those of most U.S. states with the boring "blue background + state seal" formula. But it stands above most of those U.S. flags because of its brighter colors and simplified design. The hatched wheat symbol is a nice touch.

Canada's most populous province, Ontario, features a flag created as royalist protest. The Canadian Red Ensign served as Canada's national flag until the current Maple Leaf flag was adopted in 1965 to rid the country of its colonial past. Many conservative Ontarians hated the Maple Leaf flag, believing it disrespects the country's rich British cultural history. So Ontario adopted this flag, which is essentially the Canadian Red Ensign with the Ontario coat of arms on it.

Manitoba did the exact same thing. The bison in the coat of arms serves as a melancholy hint of the awesome flag Manitoba could have if they decided to get a little more progressive.

For completion's sake, let's look at Canada's territorial flags as well. This is my favorite of the three, the flag of Nunavut. It features a red inuksuk, a symbol of the Inuit people, along with a blue North Star in the top right corner. The halved gold and white colors look great, but for some reason remind me of the Vatican flag. Probably unintentional.

The Northwest Territories sport a flag with a fun coat of arms. The white and red represent the snow, ice, and water, and the wavy line in the shield represents the Northwest Passage. The green segment represents the forests south of the tree line, and the red segment represents the tundra north of the tree line. The gold rectangles represent the territories' minerals, and the fox head represents the fur trade.

The Yukon flag features all sorts of symbolism. The territorial coat of arms sits above a wreath of fireweed, the floral emblem of Yukon. The tricolor striping has green for forests, white for snow, and blue for water.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The looming legacy of the Confederacy in Southern state flags

When I wrote about boring U.S. state flags on Monday, most Southern states were notably absent. A civil war based in part on state sovereignty will do that: for the most part, Southern states have more interesting flags than their Northern counterparts. But that's not always a good thing. The flags of the Confederate States of America have loomed over Southern state flags like a ghost for a century and a half.

It's tough for Southern states. They want to develop a cohesive flag identity that links them together without relying on their most famous flags, which evoke a history of slavery and oppression. Some states have fared better than others.

Current Mississippi flag, adopted 1894

Rejected 2001 proposal
for Mississippi flag
Mississippi is the only state still to feature the Confederate battle flag in its state flag. A vote was held in 2001 to replace it with the flag you see on the right.
The proposal replaced the Confederate flag in the canton with a blue field featuring three rings of stars: the outer ring representing the thirteen original colonies, the middle ring to represent the six nations to have held sovereignty over the state, and the larger star in the middle to represent Mississippi itself. It adds up to twenty stars, representing Mississippi's status as the 20th state. Unfortunately, the incumbent flag with Confederate imagery won the vote.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The best U.S. state flags

Yesterday I bemoaned the lack of quality in U.S. state flags. I was quickly reprimanded by readers who pointed out the exceptions to the trend. And it's true, despite over half the state flags in the country fitting the "state seal + blank background" formula, there are a few truly great designs.

In my personal experience, states I've been to with good flags also tend to be the states that more prominently display their flags everywhere. It's no coincidence: a good state flag creates more state pride.

The most iconic state flag is of course Texas. Many Texans prefer the Lone Star Flag over the U.S. flag. It's a simple design. Need I say more?

The second most famous state flag is probably California. This one breaks a few of the basic rules of good flag design. Normally, having any sort of lettering is in poor taste. But it works on this flag. I think it's because it doesn't just say "CALIFORNIA." Instead, it says "CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC," which sounds sufficiently epic.
This flag is also a bit too detailed. Have you ever noticed that in different images of the California flag, the bear has slightly different facial expressions? It's because the bear is too complex, with its realistic features and shading.
But somehow this all adds up to a classic state flag. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Why are so many U.S. state flags terrible?

I wish I could say this is the worst flag in the country,
but two dozen other state flags give it a run for its money.

Flags are icons of whatever they represent. When you see a flag, you should immediately be able to tell what it stands for. It's strange that the United States, one of the flag-wavingest countries in the world, has so many subpar state flags.

From afar, do you have any idea which state's flag this is?
If not, it's failed as a flag.
Why? Roughly half the states in the country have adopted the "boring state seal + bland navy blue background" format for their flag. Some state flags even have the name of the state spelled out on them, defeating the entire purpose of having a flag to represent them. Think of the state with the most proud residents of all: Texas. It's one of the few states to produce a decent flag. This is no coincidence; if you care about your state, chances are you've given it a good flag.

There will always be a few exceptions, but the North American Vexillological Association defines a "good flag" by five basic principles:

  1. Keep it simple. The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.
  2. Use meaningful symbolism. The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.
  3. Use two or three basic colors. Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set.
  4. No lettering or seals. Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal.
  5. Be distinctive or be related. Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.

Friday, April 12, 2013

14 things I'd like to see in NHL 14

Today EA Canada gave the first hints of the next installment in their long-running hockey franchise, with the first details to be released on Monday. With that in mind, here's a list of my fourteen most-wanted features for NHL 14. The theme I keep coming back to is making it a truly global game, looking to EA's own FIFA soccer series for inspiration.
  1. The Kontinental Hockey League. If EA wants to include all the best players in the world, they need to pony up the cash for the KHL license. One of my favorite things about EA's FIFA is that it includes almost every top league in the world. NHL 13 respectably includes the Swedish, Finnish, Czech, Swiss, and German hockey leagues, but at this point they can't keep denying the second-best league on the planet. Russia's Kontinental Hockey League now boasts teams in seven different countries all over Eastern Europe, with rumored future expansion even into Italy. Most of the best non-NHL players in the world play in the KHL. Why keep stalling, EA?

  2. The Olympics! With the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics right around the corner, it seems there's no better time to revamp NHL's international teams. EA probably can't wrestle the rights to the Olympics from Sega, but they could at least get the rights from the International Ice Hockey Federation to use real international uniforms and real IIHF World Championships. I'd love to see international play incorporated into every mode of the game, much like it is in EA's FIFA.

  3. College hockey. The Frozen Four is going on right now in Pittsburgh. Why can't I play this in videogame form? The 60-team major junior Canadian Hockey League was added in NHL 11, and it'd be nice to have the U.S. equivalent. Like in EA's college football franchise, NCAA rules would probably prohibit real player names from being used, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for college hockey in NHL.

  4. The ECHL, the third tier of North American professional hockey. NHL already includes the second-tier American Hockey League, and the ECHL would complete the NHL's three-tier farm system pyramid.

  5. The Slovak Extraliga, the other major European hockey league not included in NHL 13.

  6. Why are my top five requests all more teams and leagues? So the game can have a deeper career system. All these league and team additions would make career modes in NHL that much more dynamic, whether in "Be a Pro" or in "Be a GM" mode. Once again, just look at how EA does it with FIFA.

  7. The correct number of on-ice officials. Real-life NHL games feature two referees and two linesmen, but the NHL series has long featured... one referee. And that's it. Would it be that hard to add three more officials?

  8. I'd also like to see the on-ice officials made "live" in NHL 14. In 13, the ref is a ghost that players and pucks alike can go right through uninterrupted. But in real life, sometimes the puck will inadvertently bounce off the official and change the flow of play. FIFA already does this, so why can't NHL?

  9. A revamped single-player franchise mode. The focus in recent years has been on the EA Sports Hockey League and online play, but for someone who just wants to sit down and play a "campaign," NHL 13 is pretty mundane. It's really just... a series of games. And even if you lift the Stanley Cup, it's just one short mediocre cutscene followed by... another series of games.

  10. A revamped standard online mode. While everyone is all about teaming up with other people and playing six-a-side matchups online, often I just want to play simple one-on-one matchups online. The only depth in NHL 13's standard online mode is a leveling system. Can't there be a bit more to it?

  11. A revamped interface and menu system. It's far too wonky to get to game modes and make quick roster changes in the game.

  12. Improved "NHL Moments". NHL 13 tried recreating situations where the player has to play a highlight from the real-life NHL season, but it always boils down to either "score a bunch of goals" or "don't allow any goals." It's a great idea that's been poorly executed, and it'd be nice to see more dynamic, specific situations in NHL Moments. Speaking of NHL Moments,

  13. Better historic teams. Right now players can replay "historic" NHL Moments, but because there aren't really any historic teams in the game, the player will play as Wayne Gretzky with the 2013 Oilers, or Mario Lemieux with the 2013 Penguins. Can't we get historically accurate teams for these guys to play with?

  14. A better soundtrack. I know I can import my own songs into the game, but it's a huge roundabout process. What we're left with is NHL's completely horrible butt-rock soundtrack every single year. And only a handful of songs. NHL 13 features 16 tracks, which get to be pretty tiresome when you hear them over and over and over and over. FIFA 13, on the other hand, features 50 songs on its soundtrack. I understand hockey isn't as popular as soccer, but can't we get a few more? And not all hockey fans are Nickelback enthusiasts. While FIFA features a wide range of musical genres, NHL has... Thousand Foot Krutch. And Shinedown. And My Darkest Days. Please, please, no more butt-rock.
If I can get at least one of these wishes fulfilled when the first details of NHL 14 are released on Monday, I'll be happy. We'll see.